Clothes maketh the man, or so said Shakespeare in “Hamlet.” While clothes offer clues about the man who wears them, the real measure of a man is his manner of etiquette. In a culture of cargo shorts, casual Friday, and cursing in mixed company, don’t be tempted to give short shrift to manners that make a gentleman.
Even the most elegantly tailored Saville Row suit won’t save a man who behaves like a boor. If your wardrobe is perfectly on point, but your manners are iffy, study these 10 essential etiquette rules every man should know.
A Gentleman Knows How to Impress
Pay Attention to Details
You know what truly ruins a dapper tweed suit? Try untrimmed nails, a unibrow, or slovenly neck beard. A well-groomed body is the canvas upon which your sartorial masterpiece is built. Never leave the house, even for takeout, without clean teeth, clean clothes, and a fresh swipe of deodorant at a minimum.
Be On Time
When you arrange an appointment to meet with someone, you’ve made a promise. Punctuality conveys reliability and self-discipline; being late shows disrespect. If you have time-management issues, try figuring out the root of the problem. Maybe you need to lay out clothes the night before, or keep essentials near the front door for easy finding.
Use a Proper Greeting
Greet new acquaintances with a firm handshake and a friendly smile. Make eye contact when you’re introduced to someone and repeat the person’s name to help you remember it. “Hi Andrew, I’m Eric — pleased to meet you.”
“Yo, bro, what’s up?” is merely annoying when young people use slang, but it’s downright embarrassing between men.
Never Show Up Empty-Handed
When you are invited to someone’s home, whether for a formal dinner party or an afternoon barbecue, always bring a gift for the host or hostess. Alcohol, flowers, and chocolates are all well-received gifts. If you know the host or hostess well, consider a more carefully chosen gift.
Practice Good Table Manners
Perhaps nothing distinguishes a gentleman more thoroughly than good dining etiquette. Turn off your cell phone when dining with others, even in casual settings. Learn the art of polite conversation so you can carry your weight at a party.
Never put a dirty napkin on the table until the meal is completed; if you must leave the table, place your napkin on your seat.
A Gentleman Plays Well With Others
Know How to Treat a Woman
Fifty years of feminism be damned: Opening doors for a woman or offering her your arm as you walk down the street isn’t misogynistic. Take the check when the bill comes to the table and avoid making a fuss over paying. Of course, if she insists on paying, you should let her. If you know the weather is going to be questionable, remember a large enough umbrella to fit two!
Remember the one exception to the ladies-first rule: A gentleman gets into a cab first and slides across the seat to make room for a woman. Avoid making her muss her dress scooting across the seat.
Don’t Deal in Vulgarities
Off-color jokes and profanity have no place in a professional man’s vocabulary, especially in public places or in front of a woman. In a small group of male friends you know well, an occasional vulgarity is fine, but in other situations a foul mouth is a mark of bad manners. There are other less vulgar ways to communicate the same feelings or expressions.
Know Your Limits
Appreciating a fine cocktail or craft microbrew is perfectly acceptable, desirable even, for a gentleman. However, getting sloppy in public is not acceptable, especially not during a date or a business outing. It’s fine to throw back a few drinks with the guys in the privacy of your home, but going all Ernest Hemingway at the pub is an entirely different matter. And a gentleman never orders a drink named for a sexual position.
Be Discreet at Work
Keep the company’s business private; never share sensitive information or insider secrets. When visitors enter your office, tuck away open files and papers. Always tell callers if you’re putting them on speakerphone.
Don’t volunteer information. Say “Dave’s not in,” not “Dave’s at a meeting at Capital Bank with Bill Jones.” Stay away from office gossip and avoid dating co-workers; it only leads to trouble and isn’t good form.
Learn How to Listen
The scientific breakdown of human communication is 9 percent writing, 16 percent reading, 30 percent speaking, and 45 percent listening. Formal education covers the first three parts; a gentleman must practice to master the fourth. When people are speaking, give them your full attention. Avoid interrupting, fidgeting, or showing signs of impatience.
Today, men need more than superior clothes and impeccable style to demonstrate their gentlemanly bona fides. Excellent manners and adherence to the rules of etiquette are the marks of a civilized man.